August issue 2002

By | People | Profile | Published 20 years ago

The life of Abdul Ghani Lone was a reflection of Kashmir’s journey through peril and tragedy. In 1949, at the age of 17, Lone was arrested at the house of a local school teacher in Kupwara who was suspected by the authorities of planning an armed uprising. However, by 1967, at the age of 35, Lone was not only a well-known lawyer but had been elected to Kashmir’s Legislative Assembly on a Congress Party ticket. Before long, he would be a cabinet minister.

This transformation happened under the influence of the Kashmiri leader, G.M. Sadiq, who convinced Lone that “if we fight this mighty government of India we will end up nowhere.” Instead, Sadiq persuaded Lone to “become part of the system and persuade India to recognise that people in Kashmir cannot be ruled by force.”

After a decade of living at the centre of what is called “mainstream politics,” Lone found that his hope of finding a solution to Kashmir’s enduring crisis remained unfulfilled. In 1976, Mrs. Gandhi summarily expelled him from the Congress Party. Gradually Lone’s skepticism grew over the prospect of finding a solution within the framework of India’s democratic system. He began to doubt whether India would be able to “settle the issue of Kashmir with the people of Kashmir.” In 1978, he formed the People’s Conference dedicated to “the restoration of ‘internal autonomy’ in Kashmir.” He would lead the People’s Conference until the day of his death.

Following the emergence of militant activity in Kashmir in 1989 and the founding of the APHC (All Parties Hurriyat Conference) in 1993, Lone ultimately rose to a prominent position within the APHC’s seven-man executive. Yet, despite all the allegations of Pakistani involvement with elements in the Hurriyat, Lone remained a distinctly independent Kashmiri voice.

Only a month before Lone’s assassination, new and troubling tensions developed within the Hurriyat and in Pakistan over Islamabad’s Kashmir policy. On April 18, Lone travelled to Dubai, with Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, an executive member of the APHC and son of Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq. Among the Kashmiris that Lone and Farooq met was Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan, chairman of the Kashmir Committee, based in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The gathering was dubbed a “peace conference” of like-minded Kashmiris who “wished to put an end to violence and resolve matters politically.”

As India and Pakistan approached the nuclear edge, with Kashmir emerging once again as the potential flashpoint for war, Lone is reported to have stated to the Dubai gathering that it was imperative for Kashmiris to reclaim political control of developments within Kashmir. He objected to outsiders seeking to impose another agenda on Kashmir’s freedom struggle. Reportedly, he asked Sardar Qayyum Khan to convey to the Pakistan government an urgent request that jihadi groups be withdrawn from Kashmir.

“I told them that it is high time that jihadis should leave us alone,” said Lone, according to a report in Dawn, Pakistan’s leading newspaper. “Their presence is detrimental to our struggle, especially because they have initiated an international jihadi agenda, thus connecting the Kashmir issue with terrorism.” Noting that he had been the first Kashmiri leader to have originally welcomed the participation of jihadis, Lone stated that the behaviour of jihadi groups in Kashmir had disqualified them from further involvement. “When they started talking of unfurling their flag on the Red Fort and the White House, their activities began to hurt the interest of Kashmiris,” said Lone. He added that the stage had been reached where “a solution is only possible through negotiations and peaceful means.”

On the day of his assassination, Lone’s son Sajjad, in an emotionally charged statement accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, and Syed Ali Shah Geelani of the Jamaat as having been involved in his father’s murder. “I want to tell the world who did it,” he said. “It is the ISI, Pakistan and Geelani…They will have to pay for it.” Geelani was turned back from visiting the Lone family residence on the day of the murder. However, following the intervention of other APHC members the family permitted Geelani to return the following day and allowed him to participate in the funeral procession. Geelani in an interview called Lone “a valued colleague,” and added that “I would not even hazard a guess as to which side benefitted from his killing.”

Abdul Ghani Lone’s assassination in Srinagar on May 21 is a poignant reminder of that phase in Kashmir’s “dirty war” which reached its peak during the early to mid-1990s. It was then that certain militant groups systematically set out to target and assassinate specific political personalities who refused to accept the notion that Kashmir had only “one option” — accession to Pakistan. During this period individuals that faced Indian repression on a daily basis still remark that they often had to “watch their backs” as carefully as the dangerous terrain that lay before them. As Lone makes unmistakably clear in the following interview, he was a proponent of a “third option” for Kashmir — the option of an independent Kashmir, or a new form of sovereignty, to be accepted by both India and Pakistan as being integral to their national interests.

On hearing news that Lone had been killed, the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, stated, “He [Lone] was working for peace which is why he was killed.” However, Lone’s own view of Vajpayee’s “peace work” was one of deep skepticism. On the eve of Musharraf’s arrival for last summer’s summit in Agra, Vajpayee had repeated India’s standard formulation that Kashmir was an “integral part” of India. By doing so, Lone insists, Vajpayee promptly slammed the door on any useful discourse.

Vajpayee and the BJP, like their predecessors, had failed Kashmiris. “They are rogues,” said Lone. “You can’t expect anything from these people.” It was Lone’s view that the Kashmir policies of both India and Pakistan — in their own distinctive ways — have failed the Kashmir people and increased their suffering.

It is not clear whether the bullets that killed Abdul Ghani Lone were fired under orders or from which camp. Was he shot in the back by his “official friends” or killed by his “official enemies”? Or, in the sordid covert environment that permeates Kashmir’s political undercurrents, did mid or low-level operatives kill on their own initiative without specific orders from one of the plethora of intelligence services or militant organisations that operate in the territory?

Lone’s younger son, Sajjad Ghani Lone, said after his father’s death, “Why was Ghani Lone killed? Who killed him? Who benefitted? Who lost?…Enemies of peace martyred him. These enemies of peace have a vested interest in the continuation of the Kashmir problem. They may have succeeded in killing him, but his voice has become even louder. His cherished desire that authentic Kashmiri voices should prevail will one day become a reality. The cacophony of illegitimate, rented voices, is a cruel but transient phase. The agony of the Kashmiris cannot be prolonged.”